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Archive | Soil Fertility

Composting Tips and Strategies for Balanced Compost

Composting tips are common to find, but information to build a composting program is really what most people are seeking.

A wheelbarrow full of compost that is ready to apply.

Charles Walters, as quoted in Secrets of the Soil, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, says of microbial life: “There are more kinds and numbers of minute livestock hidden in the shallows and depths of an acre of soil than ever walk the surface of that field.”

As much as a cattle rancher’s livelihood depends on healthy livestock, he and his cattle’s very lives depend on armies of beneficial microbes for survival. Microbes are the foundation for all life on earth; without them the earth would be nothing more than a barren rock. There would be no fertile soils, no plants, no trees, no insects, no animals and no humans.

Soil bacteria secrete acids that break down rocks, and enzymes that break down dead plant and animal matter into rich, life-giving soil, while transforming minerals into forms that are usable to plants. Microbes help prevent soil erosion, combat disease organisms that attack plants, animals and humans, and are an important link our food chain.

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Soil Testing Based on Mehlich III Extraction Methods

Soil testing, wrote Jerry Brunetti in 2009, is the foundation for the actions you take to add fertility to your soil:

A farmer starts to test the soil.

I’ve always been a fan of foliar nutrition, especially on forages. However, I don’t advocate the application of foliar fertilizers as a replacement for sound agronomic practices involving comprehensive soil analysis (including multiple trace elements), tissue testing, and an evaluation of the soil ecology.

A soil test can be quite easy to interpret and recommendations can just as easily be made based on the results of the test. Since many articles on soil fertility have been written for Acres U.S.A., this article will provide the reader with an “ideal” test based upon a Mehlich III Extraction.

Forage tests generally determine whether or not you are on target with adequate feeding of the crop and are becoming considerably more revealing than in the past. This is especially true in the measurement of total digestibility and fiber digestibility, protein quality, and the various fractions of energy such as sugars, starches, digestible NDF, etc.

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Microelements with Horticultural and Livestock Applications

Microelements: We know they exist, but how can they help a farmer generate larger yields in an ecological way?

All the numerous trace elements found inside the Earth’s crust and in seawater are considered to contribute to

Boron deficiency symptoms in sectioned carrot roots.

nutritional homeostasis in plants and animals. However, only a select few, relatively speaking, have been researched adequately and can demonstrate to horticulturalist, agronomist or animal nutritionist the cost-to-benefit return as it relates to production and vigor of the chosen crop or livestock needing supplementation.

I will feature some of these special nutrients in this article while also encouraging those concerned with supplementing minerals either to soils or livestock rations to take into consideration the significance of the untold number of other elements found in naturally occurring mineral deposits that are mined, found in ocean water, seaweeds, fish emulsions, volcanic deposits, humic ores, wood ashes and such.

So, to start the ball rolling, I’ll begin by including those minerals having both a horticultural and livestock application. 

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Humic Acid: The Science of Humus and How it Benefits Soil

Humic acid: Understanding the details about how it can help your farm or grow operation will help you adjust your soil biology and chemistry to achieve better yields. Yet, taking the step to investigate humus and humic acid levels often gets skipped.

humic acid

Adding a small amount of humus to an acre of soil can achieve positive results.

When dealing with the concepts of sustainable, organic or just traditional farming, the question should be asked, “What is the lowest hanging fruit as concerns creating the most sustainable and fertile soil situation possible?”

It is this author’s opinion that the lack or deficiency of humus (the humic acids) are the weak link that hold us back from growing crops with optimum nutrition or from maintaining an urban landscape such as a park, golf course or even a private lawn and not be dependent upon high-analysis NPK fertilizers. It can be demonstrated that almost without exception soils of farms and urban sites across the globe lack a natural and ongoing formation of humus.

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Lime in Soil: How Much is Too Much?

 

When adding lime in the soil, can you have too much? Perhaps the most frequently asked question by those using our soil fertility program is, “Can I put on a higher rate of lime than you are recommending for this sample?”

lime in soil

A farmer spreads lime in his field.

Generally, this has to do with getting the limestone spread, because the owner of the lime trucks says he either cannot or will not apply such a small amount. Many times a farmer has been told, “You can’t use too much lime.”

That is not true. From our experience in working with thousands of acres that have previously been over-limed, we know you can easily apply too much lime, not just on crops such as berries and potatoes, but on whatever crop you are intending to grow. And if this happens, it can be far more expensive than just the cost of the extra limestone that was not needed, with the added cost of getting it spread.

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Minerals: The Big Four for Soil Health

Minerals and their respective roles in achieving healthy soil is a common topic of discussion among agriculture consultants and farmers. A long time ago, when I was going through my initial soil balance training, mineral balance was all that we talked about. Get the minerals right, address calcium and get it to 68 percent base saturation and all will be great.

Healthy, well-mineralized soils have good aggregation.

The physical and biological aspects of soil weren’t even part of the discussion. Even alternate mineral sources were just touched on. Potassium chloride (KCl) was a no-no due to the high salt index and the chloride, as was dolomitic lime due to our already high magnesium soils. Also on this “not to be used” list was anhydrous ammonia because of its damaging effects on soils. The concept of soil correctives and crop fertilizers wasn’t talked about either, nor was the idea of different calcium sources for different soil conditions. The balance of nutrients on a soil test was the only goal.

Now, looking back, I can certainly see that wasn’t the whole picture. What about the biology and the physical structure? How about making a fertilizer that not only delivered soil minerals but did so more efficiently? Why not have fertilizer that can balance the soluble to the slow release, make sure carbon is added for the buffering effect and provides something for the minerals to attach to so that it is “soil biology food”? Soil health is the capacity to function without intervention; therefore minerals are certainly a part, but not the whole of soil health. Continue Reading →